Lives of the fellows

William (Sir) Gilliatt

b.7 June 1884 d.27 September 1956
CVO(1936) Kt(1948) KCVO(1949) MB BS Lond(1908) MD Lond(1910) MS Lond(1912) MRCS LRCP(1908) FRCS(1912) FCOG(1929) *FRCP(1947) Hon MMSA(1953)

By the tragic death of William Gilliatt in a car accident the profession lost one of its most trusted and respected members. A man of quiet authority, great charm, courtesy and dignity, he had a modesty and reserve often misread as unapproachability by the casual acquaintance. To his friends, like those who served with him on the Court of the Society of Apothecaries, this was the expression of an innate, deep integrity, and of that statesman-like unflappability that enabled him to deal with every surgical emergency of his practice as if it had been a fully expected event.

His father, William Gilliatt, came of farming stock, but had set up business as a chemist in Boston, Lincolnshire, where William attended the Grammar School before going to Wellingborough College. His mother was the former Alice Rose. In 1902 he entered the Middlesex Hospital Medical School, where he gained the Hetley, the junior Broderip and the Hudson scholarships before qualifying with the Lyell gold medal, and then going on to house posts up to that of gynaecological registrar and tutor. He was also obstetric surgeon at Queen Charlotte’s Hospital before he began his forty years’ service to King’s College Hospital with the appointment of assistant obstetric and gynaecological surgeon in 1916.

In 1925 he became full surgeon, and by the time of his death he had been chairman of the Nursing Committee and of the Medical School Council, and vice-chairman of the Board of Governors. He was also surgeon to the Samaritan Hospital, and consulting surgeon to the Bromley, Maudsley and St. Saviour’s Hospitals. To him the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists owes a great debt; he served on its Council from 1932, was its secretary in 1942, and was elected its president in 1946, and through him it was honoured by the interest of the Royal Family.

In 1949 he was appointed chairman of the Standing Maternity and Medical Advisory Committee under the National Health Service, for the preparation of which he had given many committees the benefit of his sound judgment. Before his appointment as surgeon-gynae-cologist to H.M. the Queen in 1952 he attended at the births of Prince Charles and Princess Anne, and of the three children of the Duchess of Kent.

By then he had been honoured with the C.V.O, in 1936, a knighthood in 1948, and a K.C.V.O, in 1949, but no doubt he considered he had already gained two early objects: the justification of his innovation of lower segment Caesarean section, and the fulfilment of his vision of the necessity of giving obstetrics and gynaecology identity and purpose as a specialty.

Gilliatt never allowed his busy practice to interfere with his hospital duties; he was as meticulous in his attention to the ward patient as to his private patient, and was an excellent teacher with an uncanny flair for seeing the essential teaching point in every problem case. In 1914 he married Dr Anne Louise Kann, daughter of John Kann, of Lyne, Surrey. They had one daughter and one son, who was elected a Fellow of the College in 1961.

Richard R Trail

* He was elected under the special bye-law which provides for the election to the fellowship of "Persons holding a medical qualification, but not Members of the College, who have distinguished themselves in the practice of medicine, or in the pursuit of Medical or General Science or Literature..."

[Ann. roy. Coll. Surg. Engl, 1956, 19, 394-6; Brit.med.J., 1956, 2, 829-31 (p); J. Obstet. Gynaec. Brit. Emp., 1956, 63, 925-6; King's Coll. Hosp. Gaz., 1956, 35, 216-22 (p); Lancet, 1956, 2, 733-4 (p); Proc. roy. Soc. Med., 1956, 49, 766 (p); Times, 28, 29 Sept., 2, 3, 10 Oct. 1956.]

(Volume V, page 150)

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